No one practices his coach's mantra of hard work, dedication and attacking style on the mat more than Robbie Golde, a senior at Northwest Cabarrus High.
He wrestles at 119 pounds.
His bond with wrestling coach Ken Kepley has produced a near state championship in 2009 and a scholarship to Gardner-Webb University next fall.
A four-year starter, Golde is once again near the top of the state rankings. On Feb. 19-20, Golde and some of his Trojans teammates will compete in the 3A Midwest regional meet at Mount Pleasant, the first step, he hopes, in winning the state championship.
Golde got his first taste of wrestling as a seventh-grader at Northwest Cabarrus Middle School, then with the Team Cabarrus AAU program after the school's season.
"I had the impression it was more like the WWE (professional wrestling)," said Golde. "I realized, though, that it was more of a gentleman's sport."
After his eighth-grade season, during which he trimmed off the rough edges, Golde committed to attending Kepley's open mat sessions at the high school and lifting weights, even if it was partly for football training.
A bit star-struck by the seniors ahead of him, Golde didn't expect to get too much out of his freshman year. Without any of those upper classmen in his weight class, Golde started at 103 pounds and finished with a 41-16 mark.
A first round loss at the regional tournament cut deeply, though, and Golde recommitted himself during summer workouts. He also put on a few extra pounds for football and entered the wrestling season a little overweight.
Instead of bumping up one weight class from his freshman year, Golde was forced to skip the 112-pound class and jump all the way to 119 pounds. He won 31 of 47 matches and reached the regional semifinals but still fell short of qualifying for the state tournament.
Feeling somewhat betrayed by his own weight gain in his sophomore year, Golde quit football.
"I wasn't great at football," he said. "I wasn't going anywhere with it, so I dropped it in the off-season. I started to breathe wrestling."
As a junior Golde ran cross country in the fall. As a result, he was in the best shape of his career when wrestling season started.
To start the season, Golde dropped to 112 pounds and had a goal of simply reaching the state tournament. At season's end, he guaranteed his spot by winning the regionals.
At the state tournament, Golde won three straight matches to reach the championship match. There he lost 12-4 to High Point Andrews' Timdarius Thurston and finished with a record of 54-4.
During his three-plus years at Northwest Cabarrus, Golde's bond with Kepley has become especially strong. When Golde was 7 years old, his father, Robert, died from a heart attack related to the multiple sclerosis, leaving a void in Golde's life that has been partly filled by Kepley.
"Basically, Coach Kepley is like a father figure to me," Golde said. "I lost my father at a young age, and when I came into high school, he kind of took me under his wing. He taught me not only stuff about wrestling but about life. If I ever need anything, I just go to Coach Kepley."
They have reciprocity of trust.
Kepley expects a full effort from all his wrestlers and Golde obliges.
Kepley helped Golde get a full athletic/academic scholarship to Gardner-Webb. He signed a letter-of-intent in November, a "blessing" for Susan Golde, his mother, who works two jobs to support Golde and his sister, Christina, a sophomore at Northwest.
Golde entered this season with a more disciplined diet that he says has made a difference in his conditioning. Through Jan. 25, he was 34-4 at 119 pounds and was second in the 3A state rankings according to retrorankings.com.
Three of Golde's losses are to Jay M. Robinson's Jay Similton when Kepley bumped him up to 125 pounds.
"There's nothing he wouldn't do for anyone," Kepley said.